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Colombia’s Citizens March Against Petro’s Socialist Government



Colombia's Citizens Protest Against Far Left Government

Thousands marched in Colombia on Tuesday to express their dissatisfaction with President Gustavo Petro’s government and its attempts to make major changes to the country’s health and pension systems, as well as labour regulations.

Protests were organised as Colombia’s first leftist president fights to hold his congressional coalition together and as violence between rebel factions escalates in various parts of the nation.

A corruption scandal involving two members of Petro’s inner circle has also put the government on the defensive, with the president now defending himself against charges that his campaign was funded with unreported donations.

“This government is going to take us back decades,” Jimmy Rosero, a former army officer who assisted in carrying a 40-foot-long Colombian flag at a march in Bogota, said. “We don’t want any of its reforms to be approved” by Congress.

Colombia's Citizens Protest Against Far Left Government

Petro was elected a year ago after large protests over social and economic inequities exacerbated by the pandemic.

He promised to reach peace treaties with the country’s surviving rebel factions and to enhance access to healthcare, university education, and formal jobs.

However, Petro’s Historical Pact party did not have a majority in Congress. To govern, it formed partnerships with conventional center-right and right-wing parties, which were given Cabinet positions in exchange for congressional support.

This year, the ideologically diverse coalition began to splinter as disagreements arose over legislation aimed at reforming Colombia’s health system and making a government agency the sole administrator of insurance payments, effectively sidelining companies that currently handle a large portion of the insurance market.

Petro claims that the reform will make it easier for the government to reimburse hospitals and allow it to invest more money in isolated rural healthcare centres. His opponents, though, claim that the government lacks the capacity to manage billions of dollars in insurance payments.

The health-care reform bill is currently delayed in Congress, where it has been blocked by opposition parties and former Petro coalition members. A labour reform that would make it more difficult for firms to hire workers on temporary contracts is also struggling to obtain enough support in the Senate and House.

Colombia's Citizens Protest Against Far Left Government

Ivan Diaz, a psychologist who operates a modest empanada stand in a working-class neighbourhood of Bogota, expressed concern that the government’s planned labour regulation will compel him to lay off one of his two employees. Employers are required by law to pay additional costs for any job done after 6 p.m.

“We’re still recovering from the pandemic, and the government wants to burden us even more,” Diaz said. “I want to believe in Colombia, but it’s very difficult right now.”

Petro has promised to continue with his reform agenda, claiming that it is part of a public mandate that is currently under assault from Colombia’s economic elite.

Earlier last month, the government organised a march in support of Petro’s changes, which drew thousands of people. However, the president’s support rating has recently declined as some Colombians appear to be less interested with social and economic improvements and more concerned with security threats.

In a May study done by Invamer, 73% of Colombians said they thought things were becoming worse, up from 48% in August of last year. Petro got a 50% approval rating in a November poll conducted by the same group, but that decreased to 34% in the most recent poll conducted in April. The margin of error in the most recent poll was plus or minus 5 percentage points.

According to Sergio Guzman, a political analyst in Bogota, the government has failed to create bridges with opposition groups by refusing to modify its measures.

“The government insists on taking an all-or-nothing approach to its agenda,” Guzman stated. “And this has alienated coalition members who came from traditional parties.”

Meanwhile, the president’s efforts to reach an agreement with rebel groups have yielded mixed results. Petro granted ceasefires to two armed groups in December, but these have since broken up while attacks on civilians continue. A third truce with the most powerful rebel organisation, the National Liberation Army, is set to begin in August.

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